Barbie Girl came out in 1997, and was popular through to 1999. This song reminds me of my first school dance.
There are no school dances in Taiwan. In Taiwan, we have strict final exams in Grade 6, the results of which decided your future. Depending on your grade, you could end up going to Trade School (trade school at 12, imagine that) or you’d be going on to further academics. We had no school dances.
My first official school dance was in Grade 7. It was my first year at a middle school. It was the Halloween dance. October 1998.
The dress I had on: a white sailor dress with big red bows on the front and back. It was a child’s dress, but I loved it. I was still very much the fobby (fresh off the boat) kid at school, but it was Halloween: everyone was bound to look silly, right?
Turned out, 12 to 15 year old teenagers don’t dress up in costumes for a school dance, doesn’t matter what we’re celebrating. It was a rare chance for them to “look nice and sexy” without being “too weird”.
And there I was, the girlish sailor dress, with a girl’s black shiny shoes, frilly socks to go with them. I wore my hair in pig tails… a style my mother had convinced me was perfect for a 12 year old at her first school dance.
I found my friends… okay, my one friend, Heather Price, pretty soon after I walked in. I remember avoiding meeting anyone’s eye. I could hear them laughing and jeering. For some reason I don’t remember feeling ashamed. I remember thinking that I should be ashamed, but I just didn’t feel it.
Heather had worn jean shorts and a tight tank top. She had to fight her mother on letting her wear hoops in her ears, and her make up was too light (we could wear make up?!). Heather told me she liked my dress, there was no sarcasm or irony in her voice. That was why Heather was my only friend; she was never judgmental. Later I would learn that she grew up this way because her family had raised them as “good Christians”, who are just generally good to everybody.
Barbie Girl came on the loud speakers. Heather asked me if I wanted to find her other friends and dance. I did. My brother and I had spent the whole summer playing Aquarium on repeat. Aqua was the first music group we were ever obsessed with since moving to Canada.
Dancing with my good friend Heather to Barbie Girl made me forget all about the laughter at my expense. I ended up having a great night. It was the first time I understood the liberating properties of throwing my limbs about to the beat of music I loved. That one night, it didn’t matter I was ostracized by pretty much all of my peers because of my stuttering Otherness. I danced and laughed until my face was flushed and my throat was soar.
That was my favorite school dance of all school dances. In later years when I learned how to be a “normal” North American teenager, I became too aware of what other girls thought of me, too concerned with whether boys liked what they saw in me. I never danced again with as much abandon as I did that night, and that is a little sad.